Friday, March 25, 2005

A New Look and Paul Henning

Well, any regular readers out there will notice that I have once more changed my layout. This particular template comes from Window of Appearances. I like it because its appearance doesn't change too drastically in different resolutions and it scrolls well. I do have to warn anyone who is interested in using this template that it is literally a bare bones template. You'll have to add your own colours and so on to get it to look the way you want it.

In other news, this week has seen the passing of two major figures in television. The first was a a fellow Missourian and literally a television legend. Paul Henning, creator of The Beverly Hillbillies, died at age 93 after a prolonged illness. Paul Henning was born and raised in Missouri, growing up in Independence. Graduating from the Kansas City School of Law, Henning found himself in radio rather than practising law. He submitted a spec script to Fibber McGee and Molly, leading to a 15 year career with the show. He also wrote for The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, and accompanied Burns and Allen when they moved to television. Paul Henning had a fairly successful career as a writer in television. He wrote for The Dennis Day Show, The Ray Bolger Show, Where's Raymond, and The Real McCoys. His big break came as producer of a series featuring a fellow Missourian, The Bob Cummings Show (Cummings was born in Joplin).

While The Bob Cummings Show was successful, it would be dwarfed by Henning's very own creation, The Beverly Hillbillies. In its very first season, The Beverly Hillbillies became the number one show in television. In fact, some of its episodes still rank in the top 100 highest rated programmes of all time, a remarkable achievement for any show. The Beverly Hllibillies ran nine years, spending most of that time at the top of the ratings. In fact, when it was cancelled it was not due to low ratings, but because CBS had decided to do away with rural programming. While The Beverly Hillbillies was attacked relentlessly by crtics when it was first on the air, it has since been avenged. Many TV historians now consider the series a witty, Capraesque attack on modern American, urban society.

As if the success of The Beverly Hillbillies wasn't enough, Henning had further success with Petticoat Junction. Although not nearly as big a hit as The Beverly Hillbililes, Petticoat Junction had respectable ratings until its star, Bea Benaderet passed on. Contrary to popular belief, Henning did not create Green Acres, although he did serve as the show's executive producer.

Henning also had some success in movies. He wrote the screenplay for one of the best Doris Day/Rock Hudson moives Lover Come Back, for which he received an Oscar nomination. He also co-wrote the screenplay for teh Marlon Brando vehicle Bedtime Story.

I must say that Paul Henning's impact on my life is immeasurable. The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, and Green Acres were among the earliest shows I can remember. In fact, The Beverly Hillbillies still numbers among my favourite shows of all time. Alongside Sherwood Schwarz (creator of Gilligan's Island and It's About Time), Paul Henning was television's master of the absurd. Through the lens of unreconstructed hillbillies in Beverly Hills or socialites in the middle of Hooterville's countryside, Henning attacked the contradictions of modern society, its foibles, and its follies. No one was immune, not bank presidents or movie stars or hippies or even the United States military. In many ways, The Beverly Hillbillies commented on modern society better than the so called "relevant" sitcoms that followed it. While he had a rich and fruitful and long life, I still mourn Paul Henning's passing.

The other major figure from televisonn to pass on was comedian Barney Martin. He died on Monday at age 82 from cancer. He was not the first actor to play Morty Seinfeld, Jerry Seinfeld's father on Seinfeld, but he played the role the longest and he was the actor most identified with the role. Martin began as a police detective in New York, but in the Fifties found himself writing for such shows as The Steve Allen Show. He eventually moved into acting, appearing on such shows as Car 54, Where Are You? and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. In 1968 he got his big break, appearing in Mel Brooks' film The Producers. From there he appeared in Broadway, in such shows as The Fantasticks, South Pacific, and Chicago.

Martin did not abandon television, however, as he continued to make guest appearances and appear as a regular on various series. He guest starred on The Odd Couple, Happy Days, Barney Miller, St. Elsewhere, Murphy Brown, and The Wonder Years. He was a regular cast member on Zorro and Son, Sydney, and Daddy Dearest.

I always did like Barney Martin. He was a very talented and very funny actor. Much of the appeal in watching Seinfeld was his interaction with his parents. Those interactions would not be nearly as funny if an actor other than Barney Martin had played Morty Seinfeld.

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